Capital Tonight: State Regulator Addresses Concerns About Fracking

The Travis County District Attorney’s Office has confirmed they will present evidence to a grand jury regarding University of Texas System Regent Wallace Hall. In Thursday’s Capital Tonight, we checked in on the latest in the controversy surrounding Hall and heard how he’s responding to it.

Plus, a state program meant to help foster kids get ahead is getting a second look from lawmakers. We explained how it works and how advocates say it can be improved.


A new ad from the Wendy Davis campaign takes aim at her opponent, Republican Greg Abbott, over his position in relation to a number of high-profile court cases. Our Capital Commentators, Harold Cook and Ted Delisi, weigh in on whether Davis’ latest strategy is effective.


And while the oil and gas boom continues, there’s been no shortage of questions about its environmental impact. Christi Craddick, who chairs the Texas Railroad Commission, joined us with answers.

Railroad commissioner candidate says no link between fracking and earthquakes

The primary elections may be over, but several races are still underway. Ryan Sitton and Wayne Christian are the two candidates still facing off for their party’s nomination for a spot on the Texas Railroad Commission, which oversees the state’s oil and gas industry.

In an interview on Capital Tonight Monday, Sitton said he’ll encourage energy independence in Texas, including the growth in hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. But when it comes to the possible link between hydraulic fracturing and earthquakes, Sitton says he doesn’t believe there’s a connection.

“It seems unlikely that there would be a link, because the amount of pressure that’s required to generate seismic activity, in comparison to the number of wells we’re talking about seems to be a stretch,” Sitton said. “But if there is, the research needs to be done and we need to follow the signs.”

Earlier this year, residents of Azle, Texas bused to the Capitol to complain about frequent, low-level earthquakes. University of Texas researchers have shown most earthquakes happening in that region are occurring near disposal wells used in the fracking process. The railroad commission has hired a seismologist to look more closely at the issue.

Sitton’s Republican opponent, former state Rep. Wayne Christian, has also said he doesn’t see a link between fracking and seismic activity. In an interview with The Dallas Morning News, Christian characterized any action from the railroad commission as an “answer in search of a problem.”

In the primary election, Sitton won 31 percent of the vote to Christian’s 43 percent. But Sitton said he is confident he will make up the gap now that it’s a smaller race, where voters have more of a chance to get to know the candidates.

Capital Tonight: Azle residents bring earthquake concerns to Austin

The controversy over North Texas earthquakes has made its way to Austin. Dozens of North Texas residents shared their concerns with the state’s oil and gas regulators over a spate of recent earthquakes near Azle, Texas.

In Tuesday’s Capital Tonight, we heard why many believe the recent boom in hydraulic fracturing — or fracking — is leading to the earthquakes. Plus, we got an update on the latest round of court hearings over public education funding.


While the Texas Railroad Commission has yet to acknowledge the link between fracking and earthquakes, one scientist’s research is drawing strong connections. We spoke with Cliff Frohlich, a senior research scientist at UT’s Institute for Geophysics about what his research shows.


The details of Sen. Wendy Davis’s life are still drawing scrutiny after an article published in The Dallas Morning News pointed out discrepancies between her campaign narrative and the official record.

Democratic strategist Harold Cook and Republican strategist Ted Delisi joined us to discuss whether the dispute over details could become an ongoing problem for the Davis campaign.

Lawmakers to investigate ties between earthquakes and fracking

The Texas Legislature is taking steps to determine if earthquakes in North Texas are tied to oil and gas drilling. House Energy and Energy Resources Committee Chairman Jim Keffer named three Republicans and one Democrat to the ‘Subcommittee on Seismic Activity.’ It will be led by Denton Republican Myra Crownover.

The committee with work with the Railroad Commission to look into a rash of earthquakes in Azle, which is located about 50 miles north of Dallas. The area has experienced more than 30 small earthquakes since November. Residents in the area have voiced concerns over cracked walls, foundation damage and water leaks. Many attribute the seismic activity to hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. 

“The Texas oil and gas industry is the envy of the nation and the world. All Texans benefit from the safe production
of our natural resources,” Crownover said. “It is our job as legislators to make sure that we address the concerns surrounding recent
earthquake activity so that all Texans can sleep easy, confident that the oil and gas industry continues to operate in a
safe and responsible manner.

The Railroad Commission has not acknowledged the link, however recent studies by Cliff Frohlich of the Institute for Geophysics at the University of Texas suggest the quakes are caused by the wastewater deposited deep in the ground after it’s used to extract oil and gas. Earlier this month, the Railroad Commission announced it will hire a seismologist to study any possible connection.


Railroad Commission hiring seismologist to study earthquakes in fracking areas

The Texas Railroad Commission announced Tuesday it will hire a seismologist to study a sudden uptick in earthquakes in parts of the state with oil and gas drilling activities. The announcement comes less than a week after a heated town hall meeting in Azle, which is located about 50 miles northwest of Dallas. The area has experienced more than 30 small earthquakes in the last two months.

Residents voiced concerns over cracked walls, foundation damage and water leaks. Many attribute the seismic activity to wastewater from hydraulic fracturing. Residents were frustrated that the Railroad Commission, which regulates oil and gas, was doing little to address their concerns. 

The Railroad Commission has not acknowledged the link,  however recent studies by Cliff Frohlich of the Institute for Geophysics at the University of Texas suggest the quakes are caused by the wastewater deposited deep in the ground after it’s used to extract oil and gas.

Monday, Commissioner David Porter said in a statement he decided a seismologist needed to be added to the staff to help the agency gather evidence to learn whether there is “any possible causation between oil and gas activities and seismic events.”

Oil and gas regulator responds after heated meeting on earthquakes

Texas Railroad Commissioner David Porter is responding to complaints out of Azle, Texas, after he and other officials declined to answer questions about the link between earthquakes and nearby oil and gas exploration at a town hall meeting Thursday.

In a statement released Friday, Porter says he understands why residents are concerned.

“Although I was troubled to hear what these residents have been and are experiencing, I believe it is important to listen to their accounts first-hand to better understand their concerns. My goal was to reassure residents that their concerns are not falling on deaf ears and that the Railroad Commission is engaged and involved in gathering more evidence and data. We had over 800 folks come out, and in order to hear from as many people as possible, we were unable to take individual questions or give detailed answers to everyone present.”

The commission is facing criticism after a spate of recent, low-level earthquakes in areas near where hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, are taking place. Recent studies by Cliff Frohlich of the Institute for Geophysics at the University of Texas suggest the quakes are caused by the wastewater deposited deep in the ground after it’s used to extract oil and gas. Frohlich’s study says the water makes it easier for existing faults to slip, leading to man-made earthquakes.

The U.S. Geological Survey has also suggested a link between disposal wells and earthquakes, noting that seismic activity has increased in some areas where wastewater is injected deep underground.

The Railroad Commission hasn’t acknowledged the link, but Porter says some research is in the works. Porter’s office says he’s been in communication with the state geologist about a possible study by the Bureau of Economic Geology. The commission is also in talks with the Environmental Protection Agency and other state agencies.